My Biggest Sleep Mistake While Sleep Training
Sleep is important to me. I knew this before I had any children, and now with three children, three and under, I know this even more. I am one of those people to whom food and sleep are a big part of my overall mood. This is true for most people actually, but some of us are better at hiding it than others. I like to think I am helping others understand what their toddlers are going through, as sleep and food are also very important to them and their mood as well. So when I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to figure out this sleep thing with a newborn. I read the book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child. I really enjoyed it and felt prepared for my sleep journey.
After 42 hours of labor to bring my little bundle of joy here, I was exhausted. And even though everyone tells you to wake your baby at night to eat, I just couldn't. I was that tired. So was my husband. I remember one night I was holding or nursing my son and my husband woke up and started swaddling a decorative pillow from our bed. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was swaddling this bundle of joy. I resisted a chuckle, and told him this bundle of joy was already swaddled and nursing away. I have never seen anyone more disappointed than he was when he realized he wasn't swaddling his newborn baby. Now I can't retell this story without crying tears while I laugh between sentences. He is a good sport about it.
That first week, my baby slept 7 hours straight, and I was in heaven. I had never felt so rested. And he continued sleeping in the same pattern. By two months he was going to bed at 5 pm and sleeping till 7 am, waking only twice to eat. He was on track to be sleeping through the night much earlier than my research had predicted (insert happy dance). But then at four months, everything came crashing down. He developed a severe case of baby eczema, and it affected his sleep terribly. He began waking VERY frequently at night. And because he was suffering, I always went to him right away. If I didn't I would often find that he had scratched his face bloody while waiting for me to come in. I nursed him about every two hours at night to try and soothe him. Therefore, I was not getting much sleep.
It took about 4-5 months to get his skin under control, and as soon as it was okay, I knew we needed to do something to help him sleep better. In Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child, Dr. Weissbluth asserts that it is perfectly fine to nurse your baby to sleep at night, while sleep training them for naps during the day. I had done my nap training at 4-5 months before his eczema had flared too badly. But I continued to nurse him to sleep and needed to figure out a way to help him sleep longer stretches. So here was my mistake: I nursed my son to sleep (or assisted to sleep) but then when he would wake I allowed him to fuss and learn to self-soothe back to sleep.
What's the big deal with that you may be asking? Let me tell you! When we sleep train, we are helping our babies to learn to fall asleep unassisted so that when they wake in the middle of the night (because most babies and children and adults wake frequently at night), they will know how to fall back asleep unassisted. Babies need the same conditions in the middle of the night that they had when they were falling asleep at the beginning of the night. This is one of the only disagreement I think I would have with Dr. Weissbluth.
I was lucky with my little boy. He rarely cried or fussed for more than 15 minutes. He learned to fall asleep in the middle of the night, even while I was nursing him to sleep. I was not so lucky with my twins. When it was time to sleep train, I thought I knew what I was doing. I nursed them to sleep and then let them cry when they woke in the middle of the night. And cry they did. Eventually I figured it just wouldn't work with them. I was emotionally, mentally, and of course physically exhausted. My anxiety was the highest it has ever been. Panic attacks crept into my life. It was awful. And I was hopeless.
I can't remember exactly what it was that ignited a flicker of hope that maybe I could still get them sleeping better. But regardless of what it was, I started researching everything I could about sleep training, and it turns out I am not the only one who disagrees with Dr. Weissbluth on this point. Enough moms are out there making this same mistake that there are a lot of resources available to help parents sleep train correctly. Once I knew what I was doing, and sleep trained correctly, it worked!
No parent likes to hear a baby cry. Parents don't sleep train because we know it will be fun to listen a baby cry while figuring out this new skill. We sleep train our babies because we know how important sleep is to overall development and to mental, emotional, and physical health. We sleep train because we know we will be better caretakers for our babies when we have had some sleep. We sleep train for the results not for the journey. But let's sleep train the right way. Let's sleep train smart so that there can be fewer tears, quicker results, and more sleep.
And please, whatever you do, don't nurse your baby (or give him a binky) to sleep when sleep training. Remember that this is advice for those Mama’s out there who are looking to increase their sleep from sleep training. This is not advice for a newborn (0-4 months) or Mom’s who are perfectly happy nursing and delaying sleep training. Tune in next week as I outline the recipe for sleep training!